Top 7 Post-Apocalyptic Movie Wastelands

12 May

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While no one wants to die in a horrible apocalypse, sometimes you have to wonder what it would be like to survive the end of the world; Avoiding roving bands of cannibals while scavenging for food, clothes and, for some reason, gasoline. Would you have the chops to keep the hordes of wasteland raiders, giant mutant animals and nuclear zombies at bay? It seems as though the lawlessness of the bleak, empty deserts, where humanity no longer stands, has a strong appeal to all young people who have always wanted to pull a sawed-off shotgun from a hip holster and blow two holes through some dude in a hockey mask and a mohawk. 

Hollywood has been exploring this concept thoroughly. With The Rover, Edge Of Tomorrow, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, After Earth, Elysium, Oblivion, This Is the End, World War Z, Snowpiercer, The Colony and many other films released or set to be released, it gives us a chance to go into the ol’ video vault for the 7 Best Post-Apocalyptic Wastelands.

7. AMERICAN CYBORG: STEEL WARRIOR

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(Global Pictures/Cannon Films. 1993. Dir: Boaz Davidson)

Admittedly, no one has seen this movie. Ever. This is because it is a terrible, terrible film. If you put Mad Max, Terminator, Children of Men and Van Damme’s Cyborg together into a blender — making sure to take out all the things that are good about any of them — you would end up with this. American Cyborg: Steel Warrior was the film that ended the Cannon Films legacy, and that is truly an accomplishment in awfulness. That being said, it’s hilariously terrible, and what’s best about the whole movie are the settings. With an underground chapel made by radioactive mummy zombies, acid rain, corrugated-steel cities full of punk-rock gang-members and more industrial sets than you can shake a crudely fashioned wasteland spear at, American Cyborg: Steel Warrior is an entertaining amalgamation of every sci-fi film ever. The story follows a woman who is the only person on Earth who can conceive a child after nuclear war makes the planet’s population sterile. She has to travel across the ruins of America to get her baby to a safe haven. Along the way she is hunted by a relentless, leather-clad cyborg and protected by an often shirtless bodyguard. It’s a hard-to-find, so-bad-its-great classic, and well worth the effort.

 

6. WALL-E

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(Pixar/Disney. 2008. Dir: Andrew Stanton)

While not technically “post-apocalyptic” in terms of bombs or wide-spread death, the Earth WALL-E is charged with cleaning up is certainly a wasteland. And, what’s more, it is a wasteland beautifully rendered in top-notch CGI in which the vastness of an empty planet is captured in all of it’s crushing beauty. Watching the garbage-collecting robot WALL-E picking up trash, building little trash cubes, and then erecting large structures out of those cubes gives you the impression of massive size much in the same way that those YouTube videos show you how small the Earth is in comparison to the mega-planets outside our solar system. It’s a great example of how a wasteland should look, and if only it were filled with leather-clad gang members and hobo-looking survivors fighting to stay alive, this would have been a genre-defining post-apocalyptic epic.

 

5. 9

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(Focus Features/Relativity Media. 2009. Dir: Shane Acker)

In the future, when computers become too advanced, they rebel against their creators, and the human race is wiped out by giant mechanical demon monsters. Sure, there aren’t any humans in 9, but there are some adorable, hacky-sack human analogs. And because of the scale of the protagonists in the film, we get to see a new view of the world after. Instead of making weapons out of logs and trying to find ammo for your sawed-off, the heroes of 9 use kitchen knives for broad swords and shoot sewing needles as arrows. The vastness of the wasteland and the decrepit, crumbling buildings seem even larger and more imposing because of how giant they now seem in comparison to the heroes. If you want a good example of the world after a war with the bots, 9 is essential.

 

4. A BOY AND HIS DOG

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(LQ/JAF. 1975. Dir: L.Q. Jones)

A boy and his dog features a 16-year-old Don Johnson as Vic, who travels the wastes with his telepathic dog, Blood. Blood has psychic powers that he uses to find women for Vic to try and rape. Also, Vic and Blood are the good guys. No, I’m not kidding, why do you ask? While this sounds terrible, A Boy and His Dog is a cult classic for a reason. It’s cult because it’s incredibly weird, and it’s a classic because it’s wonderfully fascinating. The wastelands are ruled by small little towns, and there is an ever-present danger in the form of a glowing, green, mutant … something-or-other. You never really know what. But what saves this movie from being just another romp in the irradiated desert is when Vic travels to the world under the ground, where society has reverted back to a 1950s southern community with ho-downs and picnics and a wholesome feeling that is shattered by the giant cyborg men and moralistic dystopian government. A Boy and His Dog is definitely weird and surreal, but with Harlan Ellison as the writer of the source material, you can’t really go wrong.

 

3. SIX-STRING SAMURAI

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(HSX Films/Palm Pictures. 1998. Dir: Lance Mungia)

Possibly the only sci-fi movie weirder than A Boy and His Dog, Six-String Samurai takes place in an alternate future in which  America has been nuked and invaded by Russians in the 1950s, leaving Las Vegas as the only city left in the country. Elvis, who had been appointed King of America, has recently died, leaving the position open. So a number of warrior musicians set out on a journey to Vegas to claim the throne. Our hero is a Buddy Holly lookalike who is equally adept at playing a guitar as he is at jump-kicking a legion of bad-guys in their collective faces. The villain in the film is Death himself, who is apparently a heavy-metal rocker. Along the way, Buddy becomes the caretaker of an orphan, and he reluctantly begins to train him as a musician warrior. What makes this film so great are the trials these two face. A band of mariachi assassins, the entire Russian army (who are out of bullets), a cannibalistic family modeled after the Cleavers, psychotic Cosmonauts, underground monsters and a variety of other foes impede their path. This film was made for little-to-no money, and you can often tell. But even when the budget restrictions shine through, it almost makes the film that much more endearing.

 

2. THE ROAD

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(Dimension Films/The Weinstein Company. 2009. Dir: John Hillcoat)

“The Road” just came out, and unlike many of the post-apocalyptic films of the past, it is not fun. Not even a little bit. However, it is vastly more realistic. You won’t find any well-made mohawks in the world of The Road, just a lot of derelict-looking people sleeping in abandoned homes and under plastic tarps. The story follows a man and his young son, who are trying to make their way across the soul-crushingly depressing ruins of America while trying to not get eaten or raped. The thing that makes this film so important to the genre is that it takes a fantastical idea and makes it as human and real and terrifying as it really would be. They are struggling, not just to find food, but to find a place where they won’t be brutally murdered. What makes this film especially scary is that the tension never lets up. If you want a scare, and some incredibly moving performances, The Road has everything you could want in a wasteland film, except of course fun and a sense of exciting adventure.

 

1. MAD MAX 2: THE ROAD WARRIOR

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(Kennedy Miller Productions/Warner Bros. 1981. Dir: George Miller)

Obviously, The Road Warrior is No. 1. What else could it be? There is no movie that defined the genre of post-apocalyptic films more fully than Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. The film follows Max (Mel Gibson) as he travels the desert wastes, until he comes across a gasoline refinery. In this future world, gas is the most sought-after commodity, and the refinery is being menaced by a horde of psychotic wasteland raiders on mopeds and go-karts in S&M gear wearing well-crafted mohawks. The leader of the horde is the Great Humongous, and he wears a hockey mask and carries a long-barreled revolver. Now, reading that description, The Road Warrior probably sounds like the stupidest film ever made. But, be assured, it is the most fun you will ever have watching a wasteland fantasy. It is constant action, tons of excitement, great acting, really dark story-telling, and more than anything else, it set the tone for pretty much all the post-apocalyptic entertainment to come after it. You wouldn’t have a Fallout 3 without The Road Warrior.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME

(Kennedy Miller Productions/Warner Bros. 1985. Dir: George Miller, George Ogilvie)

This film is not the best in the series, not by a long shot, however Thunderdome‘s pop-culture impact is too great not to mention. Everyone knows what a Thunderdome is, even if they haven’t seen the movie. And most everyone has at least heard a Master Blaster reference and not gotten it. Well, watch Mad Max 3 and you’ll get it. However, you still probably won’t care.

 

DAMNATION ALLEY

(20th Century Fox. 1977. Dir: Jack Smight)

In what is essentially a road trip movie, Damnation Alley is about the nuclear irradiation of America, leading to savage wasteland warfare, giant hissing cockroaches and intense storms. You know, a relatively generic apocalyptic wasteland. But it does have the Landmaster, the coolest damn wasteland vehicle this side of Mad Max‘s Diesel Carrier. The Landmaster can shoot rockets, it is hinged in the middle, it can climb huge inclines, can travel over anything, and pretty much is an unstoppable moving mountain of ass kicking.

CYBORG

(Canon Films. 1989. Dir: Albert Pyun)

The best part of Cyborg is the world built around the terrible plot. With a virus wreaking havoc on Earth, Jean-Claude Van Damme is a a freelance mercenary/bodyguard who is hired to escort a female cyborg from New York to Atlanta. Along the way they are hunted by a murderous gang of psychopaths. One of the funniest elements to the film is that everyone is named after products you can find at the Guitar Store: Van Damme plays Gibson Rickenbacker, and the leader of the evil gang is Fender Tremolo. Also, everyone is dressed like a gladiator at a rave.

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